On December 1 of 2016, I joined in with a que of people getting their foreheads stamped ‘Bad Mood’ as I shuffled into the city courthouse assembly hall praying to be exempt while serving Jury Duty. Random people slowly would get up, purposely look at all of us pathetic non-exemptees still seated, and smirk while they got their special wet wipe to clean the “bad mood” stamp off their foreheads. They received their check-mark that they fulfilled their duty, and left to go on with their day.
I did not get off so easy. I was voir dired and accepted for a civil case which would begin Dec. 7 and anticipated until Dec. 15!
I celebrate and put on the production called Christmas with 16 people anticipated to come stay at my house for the holidays. Is that not a good enough exemption?
They did not even take that bait.
The day of the trial we were walked through special locked doors by the judge’s clerk who would be our “lock and key” for the time we were there. We were taken up to the seventh floor and then locked into a room with a table, chairs, a view of buildings and two bathrooms. The jury sat in silence staring at phones. We were not allowed to speak about anything to each other, so at first we did not. I, of course, pulled out treats to share because I am a mother and that is what we do when there is a gathering…(I promise I did not pull out my signature sugar cookies decorated with sprinkles at this time just “safe” clementines that could go through the metal detectors with out freaking everyone out.)
The trial began. Eight of us listened carefully the first day to the Plaintiff Attorney present the reasoning behind the case. We examined the plaintiff closely and watched her every move. The defendant attorney the same. All the people she brought were closely seated and perfectly dressed.
As we watched we did what normal human people do.
We began to judge and critique. We looked at hair styles. We looked at clothes. We watched how people would talk with their hands, or look down, or speak softly or assertive. We began to dislike some of the witnesses while like others. We began to question and wonder and ask ourselves why. All done privately within our own minds.
We would walk back and forth from the court room to the jury room to the court room to the jury room without speaking a word to each other about anything involving the case.
And then deliberations began and two jurors were dismissed. The six of us could finally break the silence.
We tentatively voiced our opinions. Some said yes for the plaintiff some said no. Women against men; at first. We talked and evaluated and tried to recall all the information given for support and for defense. We disagreed often. We agreed sometimes. We allowed everyone to speak. This went on and on and on for days.
Then, a very unique thing began to happen between us. We began to feel weighted down by this taken-for-granted job called “jury.” We began to understand the severity of this huge responsibility that we did not plan for.This was not a social event sharing cupcakes; which we did. We were making a decision about peoples lives. All this was up to what we said! What we decided would directly affect an outcome that would be costly and challenging and personal.
WE WERE THE JUDGES. (*gulp)
And all of a sudden we stopped talking so much. We were pensive and careful. Our casual judgments and critiques became more thoughtful. We got along better. We were sensitive when emotional outbursts arose. We respected opinions even if we were not all in sync. We really really examined as best as we could. And then we tried to make the right choice which we would all agree. This is not easy. But we still all felt terribly anxious. After the verdict was given, the judge came in to speak with us in the jury room and allowed us to ask questions. He acknowledged and understood personally the magnitude of the position we held and how we were feeling.
The outcome is not important. What is clear to me is being a judge is sensitive business. We often judge quickly without thinking carefully. At least I do.
I learned a lot with jury duty and I have to say I came away with new eyes. I have a whole new respect for the judicial system in this country. It is a huge responsibility to judge another human being.
I feel none of us is truly qualified.